- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Back in mid-August, Pedro Severino was pulling pins and cardboard out of a new turquoise dress shirt that appeared to have been purchased that Sunday morning. The Washington Nationals were leaving for a road trip, so the rookie had to be properly attired for the journey out of town.

He wasn’t sure what he would be doing once October came around. The Nationals‘ starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, was having an All-Star season. Jose Lobaton was a competent backup. Severino figured he would be in the major leagues as a September call-up for the second consecutive season. He did not know what would happen after that.

When Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee Sept. 26, Severino’s fall future became more clear. He would be joining other young players on the Nationals‘ postseason roster. Like Trea Turner, and possibly Reynaldo Lopez, Severino is not just along for the ride. He could be a key factor when the Nationals open the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday at Nationals Park. Placed into prominent positions, the youngsters will have to find their bearings fast.

The three have taken convoluted paths to this point. Severino spent most of the season with Triple-A Syracuse. He would not be part of the postseason roster if everyone was healthy. Turner stormed through the league once his spot in the lineup stabilized in late July. Lopez was erratic as a starter. A strong September, plus his unlikely dominance of left-handed hitters — they hit just .193 against him — have made him a consideration to oppose the left-handed heavy Dodgers.

Turner is the oldest of the group by almost a month. Lopez is just 22. All started the season in the minor leagues. When Friday arrives, they will have to line up along the first-base line in crisp white uniforms with everyone else. The game will in many ways be a replication of opening day, though one squeezed out of space for do-overs because three games later, the season could be over. It’s difficult to explain to an individual how to handle such a circumstance.

“You can say all you want,” Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. “Until he’s out there, you don’t know. And I don’t think that’s hit Trea or any of the young players yet, because right now, all they’re doing is practicing for the big games. It’s hard to prepare somebody for what’s coming. I can tell them all kinds of stuff. Until they experience it themselves, until they stand on that line out there, for introductions and the first pitch, then and only then will they know. Some guys respond well to that. Other guys don’t. There are some kids that respond under the pressure better than some veterans. Some people just can’t relax.”

Jayson Werth does not have that issue. He is going into the postseason for the seventh time. Three of those trips are with the Nationals. All the hoopla, the pregame flyover, the amplified stakes, they make him relaxed, which has also left him wondering what is wrong. He’s a man unnerved by tranquility.

“I don’t know if there’s anything you can say to really prepare somebody for it,” Werth said. “They either got it in ‘em or they don’t. You won’t know until they play those games. Looking back on my experience in the postseason, the one thing that always sticks out is how eerily calm those games are. It’s strange.

“You’d think that they have all this buzz, and you’re going to have all this excitement. For whatever reason, maybe it’s because it’s the postseason, it’s eerily calm playing in those games. It’s way different. It’s weird. You’d think it was the opposite. It’s not. You find yourself out there and you’re like, ‘Why am I so calm?’ That’s just how it is. At least, that’s how it is for me. … You feel like, ‘My heart should beating really fast.’ I think you play your whole life and you get to this game and your focus is more than you’d ever think it was.”

The weight on Severino and Turner is significant. Severino is expected to platoon with Lobaton, a switch-hitter who has an ankle problem that forces him to hit almost exclusively from the left side. Since the Dodgers are starting left-handers Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill in the first two games of the series, Severino could be the starting catcher to open the series.

When he was called up last season, Severino received lots of assistance from Ramos. The veteran worked to explain to Severino hitter tendencies, what pitches to call in certain counts, all of the tedium of a catcher’s life. Even Daniel Murphy, who has a locker next to Severino, tried to help the rookie.

“I just tried to be on the same page with the older guys and sometimes I had to follow them, because when you don’t have an idea about all the hitters, they teach what you have to do,” Severino said.

The Nationals moved the fleet Turner — projected as an infielder — to center field midway through the season. They were trying to find a way to put him atop the lineup and resolve their lack of production in center field. The position switch did it. Turner will leadoff and roam the most territory in the outfield when the playoffs begin.

“I just thought of it of as an opportunity,” Turner said. “Opportunity to get up here and try and stay up here and I wanted to take advantage of it.”

His good play, Ramos‘ bad fortune plus Severino’s skill, and Lopez’s potential have the Nationals positioned to be influenced by three of their youngest. They won’t know how until Friday night.

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